For a town with a culture revolving in large part around water — from its world-famous hot springs to the confluence of two popular recreational rivers — it should come as no surprise that Glenwood Springs is home to one of the premier swimming programs in Colorado.
Going back to the very beginnings of the Team Sopris Barracudas swim club, there’s been a mainstay who has helped keep it going for 50 years.
Glenwood Springs native Steve Vanderhoof swam on the very first Barracuda Swim Team in 1970 at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, and remembers his mother, Eddi Vanderhoof, teaching him how to swim in the uniquely warm water.
Today, now 63, Vanderhoof serves as the head coach for the Team Sopris youth program as well as the GSHS girls and boys swim teams.
He fondly recalls those humble beginnings.
“They had the Learn to Swim program at the Hot Springs back then, and they’d do sessions for 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds where we’d spread out into different groups in the shallow end,” he said.
By 1970, when he was entering junior high, the Glenwood Barracudas formed as a summer-only youth swim club team. Vanderhoof was among the founding members.
A few years later, “We tried to get the high school to do a team, but they wouldn’t let us,” he said.
So, during the school year when high school swim season rolled around, Vanderhoof and a handful of other coachless swimmers would take the bus on their own to Golden to compete in a big swim meet.
The success of the local club program through the years, especially after the Glenwood Springs Community Center pool was built in the early 2000s, eventually spawned Glenwood Springs High School girls and boys swim teams. The Demons have since had a fair amount of success at the individual and team level, producing several collegiate swimmers in the process.
Among them was one of Steve and wife Wendy Vanderhoof’s daughters, Kendall, who was an All-American swimmer for Kenyon College in Ohio from 2017-20, a stretch that included a third-place finish in the mile swim at the NCAA 2018 Championships and fourth in that event the following year.
Vanderhoof was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, attending GSHS from 1973-76, then studying at Mesa State (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
“I played basketball in high school. That was my passion, along with swimming,” he said, adding his older brother, David, also swam with the Barracudas.
It was at UNC that he took a swim coaching class and read the works of renowned swimming coach James “Doc” Counsilman, considered the father of competitive swimming in the United States.
“I took that class, and then I coached the Barracudas for three summers,” Vanderhoof said of his early coaching days.
He swam competitively for one semester at UNC, but said that without the benefit of a year-round program he quickly found he wasn’t as fast or in the same condition as the athletes who had devoted more time to the sport.
He kept swimming to stay in shape, adding running and cycling to his regimen and eventually taking up triathlons.
He met his wife, Wendy, while growing up in Glenwood Springs. After college, Steve went into the banking business with his father, the late Don Vanderhoof, whose family had founded the Glenwood Industrial Bank. Don, who died in 2017, later served on Glenwood Springs City Council, including two years as mayor.
After about 40 years in banking, including stints with what eventually became Glenwood Independent Bank and its successors, then retiring from US Bank a few years ago, Steve focused his attention on swim coaching.
Vanderhoof recalls the transformation of the Barracudas from a summertime program to a year-round program, which coincided with the construction of the aquatics facility at the Glenwood Community Center.
Prior to that, the program had bounced between the Hot Springs Pool, Carbondale’s John Fleet municipal pool and even the indoor pool at the former Sunlight Racquet Club.
“The Barracudas are the ones that really pushed to get this thing open, raising dollars through the ‘lap campaign,’” he said.
That campaign eventually raised over $1 million, and the swim club was on its way to having a legitimate year-round training facility.
He vividly remembers introducing his own daughters, Kendall and her younger sister, Kaitlyn, to competitive swimming, perhaps a little too early after they’d been used to swimming at the Hot Springs.
“They loved swimming, but we brought them over here (to the Community Center pool) with coach Howard Jay, and he had everybody get in the pool all at once and swim to the other side,” Vanderhoof said. “They made it about halfway and got out crying, the water was so cold.”
They waited another year, and by then Kendall and Kaitlyn were all in, he said. Kaitlyn attends Colorado State University but didn’t take her swimming to the intercollegiate level.
Vanderhoof didn’t coach in the club program in those early days at the Community Center but took on the high school teams at different times.
He’s now coached the GSHS girls for eight years and the boys for seven, and six years ago took the helm as head coach of the Barracudas Team Sopris age groups.
After dropping to around 30 swimmers prior to him taking over, the club program has grown in recent years to about 90 youth swimmers, ages 7 to 18, and a smaller contingent of adult “Masters” swimmers.
That growth occurred even during the pandemic, when swimming was one of the few youth activities that was deemed safe to do with certain safety protocols in place.
“Through COVID, we managed to stay open after a break from the pool (in the spring of 2020) and came back in June-July. We’ve been in here ever since and able to stay safe and stay connected at the same time,” Vanderhoof said.
Even during the break, the club members would have dryland training via Zoom, including yoga and conditioning sessions, and even fun games to keep the kids engaged, he said.
“I think more than anything else they just liked to get on there and see all their friends, so that was kind of fun,” he said.
Meanwhile, the high school teams have excelled, with the Lady Demons having won back-to-back conference titles in 2020 and 2021, and placing several individual swimmers and divers at state while placing third as a team. Vanderhoof was named conference coach of the year.
The Demons boys team also won the Southwest Conference championship this past spring and sent several swimmers to state after having the 2020 season called off due to the pandemic.
Swim team parent Tiffany Lindenberg acknowledged Vanderhoof for keeping the programs together, even with the challenges presented by the pandemic.
“Steve’s commitment to getting the kids back in the pool when everything was shut down is a testament to his dedication to this team,” she said. “The time commitment it took to make all of this happen was absurd, but his ultimate goal was to figure out how to get the kids back to swimming.”
As a result, the Barracudas were able to hold a swim meet in September 2020, but with a long list of safety measures.
“In the end, it was a huge success,” Lindenberg said. “What stands out most to me about Steve is the positive relationships he is able to build almost immediately with kids.”
Lindenberg’s son Hazen is in the sixth grade and is a club swimmer, and their daughter Ella is a senior on the GSHS team.
“Steve is kind and encouraging to all families and swimmers, and his interactions are intentional,” Ella Lindenberg offered. “He is mindful of each swimmer and helps them find the best version of themself both in and out of the pool.”
Beyond teaching conditioning and swim stroke technique, Vanderhoof says much of his approach to coaching revolves around role modeling.
That seems to resonate especially with the high school girls program, he said.
“I’ve taught some of these girls how to swim as freshmen, who’ve gone on to be state qualifiers as a senior,” he said. “We’re giving them a lifelong skill and some self-confidence, so that’s pretty special. And a lot of it is just making kids into good adults.”
That’s also evident in the programs’ recent success at having Glenwood swimmers continue and even excel at the collegiate level.
“It’s always fun to see those really good swimmers, and we have a few of them right now, where they have really good support and they work their butts off, and they can probably pick almost any college they want,” he said.
That’s something he talks about with the younger swimmers during their routine goals sessions. Some take it to heart, eyeing the junior nationals or even the Olympic trials, Vanderhoof said.
Last year’s GSHS girls broke eight individual event school records at the 3A state meet.
A contingent of divers, coached by Lara Claassen, rounded out the Lady Demons swim team in recent years, helping them go undefeated through last season and turning heads at the state meet.
As seniors last year, Libby Claassen was named Class 3A Diver of the Year, and Abby Scruton signed to both dive and play soccer for the Division I program at St. Francis College in New York City.
Several swimmers have also crossed over to do well in other sports, including cross country and track. That, in turn, has produced a few triathlete prospects heading into college, he said.
As for continuing on with coaching even after his own daughters have graduated, “It gives me something to do, and it’s fun. I love to see the kids succeed and become good adults.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.